WASHINGTON -- "Autumn in New York" -- the words cascade from Sinatra on my iPod, and I am on my way. It is a perfect time to be in Manhattan, and this week I shall be there for several days. "Why does it seem so exciting?" Old Blue Eyes croons on. My answer to him, wherever he might be, is that this week in New York the 2005 Columbus Week Celebrations are underway.
There will be exuberant celebrations of Italian-Americans in song, in the kitchen and engaged in all the other civilized pursuits for which they have demonstrated such flair. From the Old Country the Italians have sent sports cars, wines and other specimens of Italian art and commerce. But this year the Columbus Week will feature something at once extraordinary and timely. One week after President Bush announced yet another nominee to the Supreme Court, prompting another ghoulish Senate hearing, the liveliest mind now on the Court, Antonin Scalia, is serving as Grand Marshal of the Columbus Day Parade.
Justice Scalia is renowned for his learning, his wit and his love of debate. He will be around all weekend, and you can be sure that at every event he attends -- whether the elegant Saturday night Gala at the Waldorf or the Sunday morning concert at Columbus Circle or the parade itself -- the justice will be a memorable presence. Scalia is one of the most invigorating minds in Washington and one of the most principled. He is famed for his intellectual jousting but also for his good nature.
The jousting is almost always about serious matters, often the role of the courts in our system of government and the relevance of our Constitution. In honoring Scalia, the son of Italian immigrants (his father was a professor of Romance languages), the Columbus Citizens Foundation, which sponsors the Columbus Week Celebration, has put together an exceptional Supreme Court exhibit in Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall. Says Lawrence Auriana, the Foundation's ebullient president: "The United States Supreme Court, which is the subject of great interest recently, is one of America's most important contributions to civilization yet its history and functions are little understood by many people."